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Inside Politics

Gore Campaign Running out of Legal Options for Contesting Florida's Election

Aired December 5, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't feel anything other than optimistic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: Al Gore tries to put a good face on his presidential prospects as he appeals a big defeat in a Florida court.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm very encouraged by what's been taking place, and hopefully the issue will be resolved quickly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: George W. Bush looks forward, while trying to keep his confidence about claiming the presidency in check.

SHAW: The would-be veeps rally their respective troops the Hill. Is the Democratic front cracking?

WOODRUFF: Amid all this, more Americans say they are eager to see the light at the end of the tunnel along this rocky road to the White House.

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS, with Judy Woodruff and Bernard Shaw.

WOODRUFF: Exactly four weeks after Election Day -- the first election day -- and one week before Florida certifies its presidential electors, Al Gore has little time and few legal options left. Florida's Supreme Court has agreed to hear oral arguments on Thursday morning in what may be Gore's final appeal of the state's vote count.

CNN's John King looks at what is next for Gore a day after a lower court soundly rejected his case.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The public line is upbeat.

GORE: I don't feel anything other than optimistic, I really -- and the team down in Tallahassee feels that way also.

KING: The public image one of unity.

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Al Gore and Joe Lieberman enjoy strong support within our caucus for what they're doing to try to get every vote counted in Florida.

KING: But many restless Democrats, and even some top Gore advisers, believe the odds are long, the end in sight.

GEOFF GARIN, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: If Gore loses in the Florida Supreme Court, I think that the ball game is pretty much over. It will be tough for him to go on at that stage.

KING: The vice president's contest of Florida's election results now rests on one last appeal, and a month of waiting could be down to a decisive few days. The Florida Supreme Court will hear Gore's appeal Thursday, with a ruling expected as early as Friday. And trials are scheduled Wednesday for Democratic suits challenging thousands of absentee ballots in Seminole and Martin Counties. The vice president is not party to those and before Tuesday had little to say about them, but he could benefit if the ballots are disqualified and he's clearly watching with interest.

GORE: More than enough votes were potentially taken away from Democrats because they were not given the same access that Republicans were.

KING: The Gore appeal challenges all of the Circuit Court ruling by Judge Sanders Saul, but Gore legal advisers believe their best case, because of prior state Supreme Court rulings, is the portion dealing with Miami-Dade County. The Gore teams wants credit for 157 additional votes identified before a countywide hand recount was called off and wants a manual review of 10,000 ballots that registered no vote for president in machine tallies.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D-CT), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're also confident that this can be done expeditiously.

KING: But even Lieberman's confidence has limits. Sources tell CNN he has spoken to several friends and associates in recent days about the challenges of returning to the Senate in such a volatile political environment. And the vice president, too, is described by a close adviser as well aware he is running out of both legal and political options.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Now, in public, the vice president stopped well short saying he would concede and bow out of the race if he loses at the Florida state Supreme Court, but one Democrat who has spoken to the vice president frequently in recent days says Mr. Gore is well aware he would have no place else to go and Senator Lieberman said as much today, saying he was confident of the victory in the Florida Supreme Court, but win or lose, there aren't anywhere else to go -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: John, I notice the vice president spent a fair amount of time at that session with the reporters today talking about the Seminole County and Martin County challenges. How much are they hanging on this? And how much is he backed up in that by the people around him?

KING: Well, this is a very delicate political balance for the vice president because they did not join those suits. Many of his lawyers wanted to get directly involved in the suits. They believe a strong case can be made for disqualifying those absentee ballots and they wanted to put the best and the brightest of the Gore legal team in those courtroom.

The vice president, in the end on the advice of his political advisers, said no because they believe that would run count to their main public relations argument here that all the votes should be counted. But it was clear from the vice president's comments today, he's been reluctant to talk about these cases before, but very clearly that he's following them closely and some Gore advisers privately would say that's the wild card. If they lose at the Florida Supreme Court, maybe they would get some help from these challenges in Seminole and Martin Counties.

Both of these cases now on a fast track timetable to be decided by the end of this week. So, it is a wild card, here, and very interesting to see how much the vice president is following these cases even though he says and he said repeatedly, oh, I'm not a party to those.

WOODRUFF: It was quite noticeable today. All right, John King. Thanks very much -- Bernie.

SHAW: Now, to Texas where George W. Bush has been following the political maneuvering here in Washington and the legal wrangling in Florida.

And as CNN's Candy Crowley reports, there is something else Bush is watching, now that he may be closer to a victory: his words.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Optimism is tempered by the inherent unpredictability of what the Florida Supreme Court may do.

BUSH: It's been one month from today that the people actually showed up and started to vote, and here we stand -- here I stand -- still, you know, without a clear verdict.

CROWLEY: Still, the governor of Texas may be a court ruling away from president-elect. And the rhetoric about a concession from Al Gore has been dialed back.

BUSH: That's a decision that the vice president has to make. It's a difficult decision, of course, and I can understand what he may be going through. It's been a very interesting period of time for both of us.

CROWLEY: Key word: conciliatory. Bush and company want to give the vice president room to play this out his way. Our guiding philosophy, says a Bush staffer, is simple caution. There is a concern with acting presidential while not acting in a way that is condescending to the vice president. Caution extends to movement toward naming a cabinet.

"We're in total lockdown until Gore concedes," according to one aide. Still, senior staff announcements may be forthcoming, and some potential Cabinet nominees have been contacted, activity designed to ensure that Bush can move out of uncertainty with decisive movement.

BUSH: I think it is going to be important to show some -- once the election is over -- to show the American people that this administration will be ready to seize the moment.

CROWLEY: Laying the groundwork for getting legislation through a divided Congress, Dick Cheney worked Capitol Hill Tuesday, meeting only with Republicans, reaching out to everybody.

RICHARD CHENEY (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And the transition is up and running and operational now, and we look forward to working with members of Congress of both parties.

CROWLEY: The Bush team philosophy as described by one aide: "Hug a Democrat. You need them." But the timing is not yet right. "We're looking forward to reaching out to Democrats," said one strategist, "but part of being bipartisan is being respectful of the opinions of the other party and not putting them in an awkward position."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: The step back and let it happen approach can best be seen as short-term strategy. If the Florida Supreme Court should make a ruling that draws this out for weeks or perhaps months, look for this strategy to be the first thing under review in the Bush camp -- Bernie.

SHAW: Candy, we heard Vice President Gore in the White House driveway this afternoon, what's the Bush camp's reaction to his comments?

CROWLEY: One of the people who watches the Bush campaign told me they were struck by the difference in what Senator Lieberman had to say and in what the vice president had to say, Specifically they felt that Senator Lieberman had made it quite clear that the Florida Supreme Court would be it.

And they didn't feel they got that actually from the vice president. They were also struck, as John mentioned and Judy mentioned, about how much time the vice president talked about Seminole and Martin Counties, two suits that the Gore team says they're not involved in. The Bush team says, look, the guy who filed the suit is a longtime Democrat, a big Gore donor and they don't quite believe that there's that much distance between the Gore team and these two lawsuits.

SHAW: Candy Crowley, thank you. Well, as both sides plan their next moves, public opinion figures in, at least to some degree. And, in that area, there appears to be new pressure on Vice President Gore.

Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider is here. Bill, how does public view the presidential stand-off right now?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, what's happening, Bernie, is Florida fatigue is setting in. Sixty-three percent of Americans say this has gone on too long already. The number who say they're willing to wait even a little while longer is down to about a third. People just want this thing settled, even if it means involving the Florida legislature.

A majority of Americans now say that if the winner in Florida is not settled by the December deadline, they would approve of the Florida legislature voting to select Bush's slate of electors.

You know, when people are willing to turn this over to politicians, that's when you know they've had enough.

SHAW: But what about Gore's argument that the ballots should be counted?

SCHNEIDER: Too late. Most people now say they would oppose a court decision to hand count the disputed ballots in Miami-Dade County. A slightly larger majority would oppose a hand recount of all the Miami-Dade ballots. That's important because Gore is basing his claim on an argument of fact, that if the ballots are counted, he would win. Until now, the public has been willing to support a hand count as the fairest way to determine the outcome, but no longer.

SHAW: Do they believe Bush won Florida?

SCHNEIDER: Well, you know, actually, they're not sure. Gallup asked: "If every voter had properly cast his or her vote and all valid votes were accurately counted, who do you think would have won Florida?" It's just about a tie: 39 percent say Bush would have won, 37 percent say Gore, and about a quarter are unsure.

It's not that people believe Bush won Florida. It's that they don't think they will ever really know. But here's one thing Americans do know. Nearly two-thirds know that Gore won the national popular vote. But that doesn't mean they see damage to Bush's legitimacy if he is declared the winner: 85 percent of Americans say they would accept Bush as the legitimate president. And that includes 82 percent of people who know that Gore won the national vote.

SHAW: So are people ready for Gore to concede?

SCHNEIDER: Yes, they are. Close to 60 percent now say he should concede. And this is where Democrats start worrying. Right now, 60 percent of Americans disapprove of the way the Gore campaign is handling the Florida situation. Almost 60 percent approve of what the Bush campaign is doing. If other Democrats begin to fear that Gore is damaging the party, then we may start to seem them begin to abandon the cause, Bernie.

SHAW: And the clock continues ticking.

SCHNEIDER: Yes, it does.

SHAW: Bill Schneider, thank you -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Well, we are joined now by David Broder of the "Washington Post" and CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield.

David, to you first: How much longer can Gore keep any sort of Democratic support, with the public support slipping away and with the court rulings going against him?

DAVID BRODER, "WASHINGTON POST": I think he can keep it, Judy, until there is one more adverse ruling, particularly if that adverse ruling were to come from the Florida Supreme Court. Democrats on Capitol Hill will tell you that he needs a win somewhere -- and very soon -- to sustain this campaign to keep the campaign going.

WOODRUFF: Jeff Greenfield, does that win have to be a win from the Florida Supreme Court? Would a Seminole County, Martin County challenge win -- even though the Gore people themselves are not in those cases -- would that suffice for him?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Well, it would breathe life into his hopes. But of course, that win is predicated on the judge throwing out thousands of absentee ballots, when the Gore campaign has been saying: Count every vote.

I think David's exactly right. One of the reasons why the Democrats that I have talked to today are willing to stay with Al Gore, is they think it's only a matter of days.

I don't know anybody who thinks that he has good shot of winning. But if this thing were going to stretch out another few weeks, then I think you would see some serious erosion. But I think they're willing to say: OK, look, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, even if it's a train heading in our direction. Let him have his one last shot. And then that will be it.

WOODRUFF: David, why do you think the Democrats have been willing to stick with him this long?

BRODER: For the same reason that shows up in your poll: If you look behind those numbers that Bill Schneider was just quoting to us, most of the Democratic voters in the country still think that Al Gore won Florida. And they are prepared to support an effort to keep it going a little bit longer. There is not much risk for any Democratic- elected official in standing behind Al Gore at this moment.

WOODRUFF: Jeff, clearly it's premature to talk about what the final scenario's going to be here, because we don't know what the Florida Supreme Court is going to do. But looking ahead, how important is timing for Al Gore? I mean, is there going to be a magic moment when he must move one way or another? GREENFIELD: It's very -- well, I think if the Florida Supreme Court says no to him, and the Seminole and Martin County decisions don't go his way, he has got nothing left, except to try to talk a bunch of Bush electors into not voting for him -- I mean, into voting for Gore. And he already said he wouldn't do that.

Look, you have got a situation here -- and I think it's useful to put on the table -- where part of the reason why I think the Democrats are willing to stay with him is: They don't think he's going to win. It's not all that intense, I think. They've been governing for eight years. And one of the reasons why the Republicans, I think, have been so much more intense about all this is that they've been out.

There's a great line I'll leave you from "The State of the Union," that classic play about politics, where somebody asks a Republican, "What's the difference between the parties?" And he says: "All the difference in the world. They're in. We're out." So, you know, I think, for the Democrats, they've got a tie in the Senate now. I don't think they think there's going to be that much damage that will be done. Some of them are a little hostile to some of what Clinton And Gore did with NAFTA, GATT, the Chinese trade policy, welfare reform.

So I think they are saying: Go ahead, have your shot, Mr. Vice President. And then let's give it a rest.

WOODRUFF: David, what more would you add to that calculus of what Democrats are thinking and what they are calculating at this time?

BRODER: Well, there are a handful of Democrats, of course, who are thinking about: If Al Gore loses this time, where does that leave me for 2004? But I think a much larger number of the elected officials are thinking in terms of: How do I show my core constituency at home that I'm with them? Because as long as activist Democrats still believe that Al Gore has a just claim to this, those elected officials, the safest place for them to be is with Al Gore.

WOODRUFF: Well, given that, Jeff, how do -- you know, how do you walk that line between those two very strong sentiments that David is describing?

GREENFIELD: I don't -- I'm not sure it's that complicated. You stay with the vice president until he loses -- if he does -- in the Supreme Court of Florida. You hope then that he doesn't drag the situation out three or four more weeks. And everybody then begins to make nice, conciliatory sounds that will last -- David knows this much better than I -- somewhere until the first sign of spring, probably, in 2001, if not sooner.

WOODRUFF: David, your guess is that the vice president has started thinking about what he'll say, assuming he does concede?

BRODER: Well, Judy, I was talking to one of his close associates today, who reminded me: Al Gore has already conceded this election once. He will know how to do it if the circumstances require him to do it again -- referring, of course, to the phone call to Governor Bush sometime in the small hours of the morning of November 8.

WOODRUFF: And whatever remarks he had presumably prepared -- although there's a lot more to say at this point.

David Broder, Jeff Greenfield, thank you, both -- Bernie.

SHAW: This is orientation period for certain senators-elect on Capitol Hill. Two of them: Democrat Hillary Clinton from New York and Jon Corzine from New Jersey -- they talked to reporters. And this is some of what they had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN.-ELECT HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Well, I've had a very good day. Jon and I have been going through orientation together. And I think that, for me, it's been the great privilege to be here, especially with the other new senators with whom I'll serve, all of whom are impressive and as committed as Jon and I are to the work ahead.

And I was just thinking, you know, I hadn't spent much time in this building since 1974, when I worked for the Congress, and 1968, when I was an intern. So I'm delighted to be back and rediscovering the beauty of the Capitol.

QUESTION: Senator, what was your meeting with Senate Majority Leader Lott like? Could you talk about that meeting a little bit?

CLINTON: I think -- let Jon say a few words first.

JON CORZINE (D), NEW JERSEY SENATOR-ELECT: Well, we -- I think all of us have a sense of the history. We just came out of a remarkable session with Senator Byrd, who gave a perspective and an imperative to all of us to take the responsibilities of being a United States senator, representing the separations of powers effectively and forcefully, in a way that I think is inspiring to all of us. And I'm sure it was to the first lady.

She's inspiring to all of us. But I think that this moment in history and that this institution is pretty remarkable. I think it catches anyone's attention, whatever your perspective.

CLINTON: I think that all of us who just listened to Senator Byrd were struck by not only the history, but the challenges that each time faces. He really put into perspective some of the early challenges that senators in the beginning of the 19th century faced, all the way to the present time. And that just increases our feeling of responsibility that this day has impressed upon us.

QUESTION: Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison today said that you are kind of a blank slate as far as the impressions up here are concerned. How will you make your mark? How do you plan to make your impression up here?

CLINTON: Well, I'm pleased to learn that I am...

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: That's very good news. I intend to work as hard as I can and to represent the people of New York to the best of my ability, to work hard to serve my constituents, to work with my colleagues, wherever and whenever I can, on behalf of our country. So I'm absolutely hoping to build relationships and create consensus with every senator.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, Senator-elect Hillary Rodham Clinton, with New Jersey's new senator-elect, Jon Corzine.

Still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS: more on Florida's Supreme Court, as the state's justices take center stage in election 2000 once again.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: On Thursday morning, both campaigns will once again go before the Florida Supreme Court. The justices will hear arguments on the issues in Al Gore's contest appeal, as they consider whether to take the case. All this, as the state's high court prepares its response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Well, joining us with the latest from Tallahassee, our Susan Candiotti -- Susan.

CANDIOTTI: Hello, Judy. When the Florida Supreme Court hears those oral arguments Thursday morning, Mr. Gore's lawyers must first convince the court, as you indicated, that this court should use the authority it has to decide the issues in this case, while at the same time Mr. Gore's lawyers must try to resolve those issues and make its arguments before this court.

Now each side will have to speak quickly. They've only been allotted one-half hour each: That is to say, those representing the views of Vice President Gore and those the views of Governor Bush. The entire hearing is slated to last for only one hour, and it will be televised just as it was a couple of weeks ago.

Now, if there is a decision in Mr. Gore's favor, it would be unusual, because it is not the usual mode that the high court would reverse a trial court's ruling. Mr. Bush's lawyers are counting on that. However, lawyers for Vice President Gore believe they have a very strong case.

About two hours ago, a half dozen parties, unrelated directly to the Gore appeal, filed briefs at the request of the Florida Supreme Court. This court wanted input from various parties before it issued its own clarification, asked for by the U.S. Supreme Court, about why this Florida Supreme Court extended the deadline for manual recounts in Florida.

So involving the Gore appeal, it does appear, according to all observers, that a quick decision will probably be forthcoming, but as you know, there are no guarantees. And finally, we can tell you that court has closed for this day. We expect no further announcements tonight.

Judy, back to you.

WOODRUFF: All right, Susan Candiotti, thanks very much -- Bernie.

SHAW: And joining us now, also from Tallahassee, Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times." Ron, what must Gore's lawyers argue to persuade the Florida Supreme Court justices to overturn Judge Sauls?

RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, Judge Sauls built his --built really two lines of defense around his decision, Bernie. One, a legal line; one, a factual line. He argued that the courts do not have the authority in this contest procedure to overturn what the canvassing boards do unless the canvassing boards have abused their discretion. That was the argument that the Bush people, the Bush lawyers advanced, and the Gore people have to convince the Supreme Court that that was illegal -- an erroneous decision. It was wrong as a matter of law.

The second line of defense may be even tougher, because he argued, Judge Sauls, as a factual matter -- and I think this surprised many of the Democrats -- that even if he granted the relief that Gore was asking for, Gore did not prove that he would gain enough votes to overcome George Bush's lead in the state and thus place the result of the election in doubt as the contest statute provides.

Now, Bernie, that's key, because appellate courts -- high courts are reluctant, historically, and indeed through the procedures, to overturn lower courts on a matter of fact as opposed to a matter of law. So the Gore people have to find a legal argument to impugn that conclusion by Judge Sauls, and what they are likely to argue is that he failed to consider the key piece of evidence in the case in reaching that conclusion, and that is the ballots themselves.

He did not look at the ballots before deciding whether there were enough votes there for Vice President Gore and that was a mistake.

SHAW: And they're hoping that by placing that argument, as we expect them to place it, that this will prove that a recount would establish that Gore would emerge the winner?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, I think -- you know, I think one of the things they have to overcome, as I said, is Judge Sauls' rather emphatic ruling that Gore had not established a reasonable probability that even if he got the relief he sought, that he would overcome Bush's lead.

And you know, you look at what they were asking for. They were look -- they were asking for the partial recounts in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach to be included. They were asking for Nassau County to be reverted back to the result of the first recount that they conducted there. But most importantly, they want to complete this recount in Miami-Dade and they want to reassess the votes in Palm Beach County. Now, the Gore people say, look, if you add all that up, there's clearly 537 potential votes there, but they didn't convince Judge Sauls, and the Republican lawyers will point out that they can't introduce new evidence at this point. They simply have to rely on the record that was accumulated in the trial court.

SHAW: Another subject. Now, the Seminole and Martin County cases involve votes totaling 7,600. Gore's last hope?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, and I think an interesting question here, one that is not fully resolved in my mind, is "What does Al Gore do if the state Supreme Court rules against him on the contest but these other two cases have not been fully resolved?" Does he concede at that point and run the risk of undermining those case, some future judge saying that they are moot because he's out of the race? Or does he stay in long enough to let the Supreme Court resolve those?

There's been some ambiguous language from some of the Gore people. They're saying it ends at the state Supreme Court. They haven't said exactly where it ends at the state Supreme Court.

SHAW: But this is a vice president who said for weeks he wants all votes counted. In these two cases, they're asking that absentee ballots be thrown out.

BROWNSTEIN: And they've been very careful, as you know, Bernie, to keep their distance legally from those cases. The question will be, I think, one of timelines, because if the state Supreme Court doesn't hold for him in the contest, these last two cases, as you suggest, will be the last line of opportunity for him, but he would have to make a decision whether to, in effect, stay in the race beyond an adverse decision on his own contest. And at that point, he is effectively joining those Seminole and Martin County cases.

SHAW: Ron Brownstein, "The Los Angeles Times," these days living in Tallahassee. Thank you.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you, Bernie.

SHAW: And there is much more ahead on this extended edition of INSIDE POLITICS. Still to come...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... now, these voters' ballots to be counted when they were illegally issued, then it dilutes everyone else's vote who voted legally in this particular election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHAW: The legal battle over absentee ballots in Seminole County: Could this be the lawsuit that helps Al Gore? Plus...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THEODORE OLSON, BUSH CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: How these votes are counted could make a difference conceivably in the outcome of the election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHAW: The Bush campaign still fighting recounts, just in case. An update on the arguments before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. And later, the ins, the outs of Florida's election laws with David Cardwell.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Another showdown in Florida Supreme Court is in the works. Here are the latest developments in the contested presidential election. Lawyers for Al Gore and George W. Bush have until noon tomorrow to file briefs in Florida's highest court. Oral arguments are set for Thursday. The issue: Gore's appeal of yesterday's lower court ruling that rejected the vice president's contest of the election results.

Despite his setbacks, Gore said today that he believes he still has a chance to win the election. Speaking to reporters, Gore said, quote, "I don't feel anything other than optimistic."

As for Bush, the Texas governor is pressing ahead with his transition plans. He received his first regular CIA briefing today. He called the briefing "good" and said he is in constant contact with his transition team in Washington.

Both party's running mates were on Capitol Hill today. Dick Cheney spoke with Congressional Republicans on Bush's transition plans. Joe Lieberman met with the Democrats in a bid to shore up support for the continued fight for the White House.

SHAW: At this hour, motions are being filed to dismiss a Democratic lawsuit in a case that may be a last ray of hope for Al Gore in his bid for the White House. The case is unfolding in the Leon County Circuit Court in Tallahassee. This is a live picture. You can see, it's still under way. At issue: Allegations by a Democratic voter who alleges Republican workers tampered with thousands of absentee ballot applications. Outside the courthouse, absentee voters organized by the Florida Republican Party demanded that their ballots not be thrown out.

It's possible the outcome of the Seminole County case could pave the way for a Gore victory in this highly disputed presidential election.

Mark Potter looks at the details and what is at stake for both Gore and Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The lawsuit was filed by Harry Jacobs, an attorney and volunteer vote-count observer for the Democratic Party. It claims thousands of Republican absentee ballots should be thrown out, which could cost George W. Bush the election. HARRY JACOBS, PLAINTIFF: There are going to be a lot of people upset with the action I'm taking. I'm taking it because it's the right thing to do.

POTTER: The suit claims the Seminole County supervisor of elections and members of the Republican Party violated Florida election laws. Supervisor Sandra Goard is under fire for allowing Republicans to use her office to correct errors on thousands of absentee ballot applications, not the ballots themselves, which can be verify by comparing signatures on file.

The preprinted applications didn't include the voters' registration numbers, as required by law, and Republicans were allowed to correct the mistake so ballots could be sent out. Jacobs argues that was illegal, and the ballots should be disqualified.

JACOBS: To allow those voters' ballots to be counted when they were illegally issued then dilutes everyone else's vote who voted legally in this particular election.

POTTER: Jacobs says if those specific ballots can't be found, then all 15,000 absentee votes must be disqualified. Republicans say this is Democratic Party politics at its most desperate.

JIM HATTAWAY, ATTORNEY: This is an attempt to target Seminole County, which is Republican-rich country, where they know mathematically if they can throw out 15,000 votes, they can gain a 5,000-vote advantage for Al Gore in the statewide count.

POTTER: At the first of several hearings, attorneys said Supervisor Goard and party officials did absolutely nothing wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not an illegal act, it's not a felonious act, and the plaintiffs are just wrong -- pure and simple.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CROWD: Count my vote! Count my vote!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

POTTER: At the Leon County Courthouse, absentee voters from Seminole County protested the intent to invalidate their ballots. The lawsuit is supported by the Florida Democratic Party, but lawyers for the Gore campaign have not joined in.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

POTTER: The plaintiff in this case, Harry Jacobs, says the law is the law, and ballots must be thrown out. The Republicans claim this is a "hyper-technicality" for which thousands of innocent voters should not be punished -- Bernie.

SHAW: Well, Mark, conversely, were Democrats deprived of the same opportunity in Seminole County and Martin Count, for that matter, to correct the errors on their absentee ballots applications? POTTER: Bernie, it appears the Democrats didn't need the same opportunities that the Republicans got. It was the Republicans who messed up their own applications. They forgot to put this -- these numbers on the cards that were sent out to the voters. The Democrats got it right. And from depositions that we have read and from interviews that I did in Martin County are, it seems clear that there were very -- relatively few Democratic-ballot applications that came in that had problems.

The deputy supervisor in martin county told me that in those few cases they actually tried to call all of those people, be the Democrat, Republican, or the independents and only a very small amount, a handful, she said, of application were not honored when they got through with the calls and that's just because they couldn't reach the people. It doesn't seem that this was a major problem on the Democratic side.

SHAW: And the numbers we're referring to is the voter identification numbers?

POTTER: That's exactly right. The law in Florida says that that card, an application, must include the voter identification numbers. And the point I want to be clear is that we are talking about the applications for the ballots, not the ballots themselves. The ballots can be checked against a signature on file to make sure that there is no fraud. This is not an allegation of fraud or ballot theft over anything like that this. This involves an application correcting a mistake and the question is whether that should be allowed and then beyond that, what's the remedy? Do you punish the people who did it, if you find out that that's that's something wrong? Or do you punish thousands voters by taking away their vote.

SHAW: Thank you, Mark Potter -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And Coming up next on INSIDE POLITICS, George W. Bush takes his fight for the White House to a federal court of appeals. Charles Zewe on the issues and what's at stake.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: Another legal fight waged today in the battle for the White House. This one, on behalf of George W. Bush in a federal appeals court in Atlanta.

Charles Zewe reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PROTESTERS: The fat lady is singing.

CHARLES ZEWE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With a vocal group of Bush backers outside the courtroom, the 12 judges of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard back-to-back arguments on two cases filed by GOP supporters who want the federal court to throw out results from manual recounts in Florida. Bush attorney Theodore Olson telling the court, hand recounts in selected counties illegally make those votes more important than others cast elsewhere.

THEODORE OLSON, BUSH CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: The selective manual recount process is inconsistent, unfair, involves changing standards and changing rules and is unconstitutional, because it treats equal -- different citizens in a different way.

ZEWE: One appeals court judge sharply questioned standards used by canvassing boards for recounts in Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Brevard counties. Judge Stanley Birch, who was appointed by Governor Bush's father, declared "the essence of justice is that everybody plays by the same rules but we have to know what those rules are."

Democrat attorney Teresa Wynn Roseborough, however, countered the canvassing boards were properly deciding which votes to count.

TERESA WYNN ROSEBOROUGH, GORE CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: We maintain that every citizen has the right to have their vote counted if they cast a lawful ballot and if a human being can discern their intent from the face of their ballot.

ZEWE: In briefs filed with the appeals court, Florida Democrats say there is no need for the appeals court to rule on the matter since recounts are finished and Bush has been declared the winner. But Bush attorney Ted Olson pointed to Gore's continuing court challenge.

OLSON: The battles over how votes will be counted in Florida are far from over and therefore how these votes are counted could make a difference conceivably in the outcome of the election.

ZEWE: Attorney James Bopp Jr., who brought one of the lawsuits on behalf of Bush supporters in Brevard County, however, noted that no matter who ultimately wins, the manual recounts had placed what he called "everlasting doubt" on who is the winner of the election.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZEWE: The Bush lawyers and some legal observers see this whole case as a potential insurance policy for the Texas governor and his hopes of getting into the White House. The way they reason it, if the courts in Florida refuse Vice President Gore's attempts to find enough votes to win, then the case here at the 11th Circuit and the one heard by the U.S. Supreme Court become moot. If, on the other hand, Gore wins his appeal and gets a hand recount in both Palm Beach and Miami- Dade counties, then this court, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in a potential decision in favor of Governor Bush could be the decision that preserves his victory -- Bernie.

SHAW: Charles Zewe with the latest from Atlanta.

Just ahead, the legal perspective from Florida, the state that now holds the keys to the White House.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: The presidential contest may indeed hinge on the details of Florida's election law and the court interpretations. Well, joining us now to help us understand some of those issues, former Florida elections director David Cardwell.

Hello, David.

DAVID CARDWELL, CNN ELECTION LAW ANALYST: Hello, good seeing you again.

WOODRUFF: You, as well. I've been seeing a lot of you lately.

David, let me first ask you, does it appear to you, based on what you know, that the law was violated in Seminole and Martin counties?

CARDWELL: Well, the Florida statutes say that when it comes to various election materials, including the ballots and the request for absentee ballots and other election documents that are in the supervisor of election's office, they're only to be handled by the supervisor or the supervisor's employees. In the instances of these two counties, Seminole and Martin, the allegations are that someone other than the supervisor of election employees handled these materials, actually wrote on the absentee ballot requests.

So in terms of the election code saying no one else can handle those materials, it would appear, if in fact those allegations are true, that that would be a violation of the election code.

WOODRUFF: So there's no doubt in your mind about that, if that's what took place?

CARDWELL: If that's what took place. The issue in both of these cases is probably going to be not so much "Did something occur?" I think they're going to be able to get through that phase fairly quickly. The real issue is going to be, OK, this took place, what harm was there and how do we remedy that harm? And that's where you're going to have a wide divergence of opinion.

You're going to have one side that's going to be saying this is a technical violation and it didn't affect the ballots that were cast by the voters. The other side is going to say: This impugned the integrity of the entire absentee voting; therefore, you've got to knock out all the absentee ballots.

WOODRUFF: Well, is there a remedy you can foresee, that you can imagine that's appropriate here, short of throwing out thousands of ballots?

CARDWELL: Well, if there was in fact a violation of the election code, there are provisions for civil and criminal penalties. So it could be that the court could find that a violation occurred and say -- I'm not going to disenfranchise all of these people who voted, thinking they did so correctly; rather, let's go after the people who actually committed the violation -- and could recommend that there be either criminal or civil action brought against those individuals.

WOODRUFF: David, let me ask you now about the Florida Supreme Court and ruling -- reviewing the ruling yesterday by Judge Sauls, the circuit court in Leon County. Let me specifically ask you about the standard that Judge Sauls said that he -- or suggested that he had to use to judge whether or not it was -- it was right to go ahead and count the ballots. He said there had to be a "reasonable probability" that the election results would be different. And of course, as we know, he said the Gore people had not proven that.

Is his standard that he set at all subject to question by the Florida Supreme Court?

CARDWELL: Well, he relied upon some -- some cases which he mentioned in what he said from the bench, which was State v. Smith, and then another case Smith case. Smith versus Tynes. Smith v. Tynes is the case in which the Supreme Court articulated what we call the "but for" test: that but for what you're complaining about, the results of the election would have been different.

And so to get to that point, you have to plead in your pleadings that there are enough votes in question that could affect the outcome. And then, in the course of the trial, you have to then take the next step and be able to prove that with evidence. And the judge said that they did not present enough evidence to get to that standard that there was a reasonable probability, not possibility, but probability that the outcome of the election would have been affected.

WOODRUFF: And that -- and that's what I'm asking about. Is that, the reasonable probability that he cited there, that's not a part of Florida election law. You're saying it's a result of two previous court rulings, right?

CARDWELL: Right. It's not written in the election code itself. And that's where -- but it's case law, and that's where we're going to have some argument before the Florida Supreme Court between the two sides, because the Gore side is saying that that was too high a standard, that the statute has been amended recently, and they merely had to show that there was a possibility of an outcome or the outcome of the election could have been affected, and just by showing that, they're then entitled to a recount, or a count, as they would say, of those 9,000 ballots from Miami-Dade County. Whereas the Bush side, the side which the judge seemed to agree more with, said: No, this is on review from the canvassing boards, they acted reasonably, they did not abuse their discretion; therefore, no need to count the ballots. And that was the side that Judge Sauls came down on.

WOODRUFF: All right. A lot to keep our eye on.

David Cardwell, thank you very much. You're putting in yeoman's duty down there for us. Thanks very much.

CARDWELL: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Well, stay with us as INSIDE POLITICS continues at the top of the hour. We'll have a live update from the Florida Supreme Court: the scene of the next, and perhaps final, showdown in the presidential election. And we will take a closer look at the Democrats' efforts to keep it together on Capitol Hill. That plus Senator-elect Clinton, when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WOODRUFF: Al Gore looks to the Florida Supreme Court to keep his presidential hopes alive.

SHAW: George W. Bush hears grumblings from the right about the White House team he is putting together. Plus...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Try as she might to hide amongst her fellow freshmen, she simply couldn't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Eileen O'Connor on Senator-elect Clinton's debut on Capitol Hill.

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS, with Judy Woodruff and Bernard Shaw.

SHAW: And welcome back to this extended edition of INSIDE POLITICS, as the presidential election battle heads back to Florida's Supreme Court.

The state high court set a timetable today for hearing an appeal of Al Gore's contest of the Florida vote count. Briefs are due by noon tomorrow, oral arguments at 10:00 a.m. Thursday. After a lower court judge ruled against Gore yesterday, George W. Bush sounds optimistic about winning the White House, but Gore insists he's optimistic, too.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: I do think that it's likely that all of the current controversies will end up being resolved one way or another in the Florida Supreme Court. And that -- you know, that's been predicted for a long time now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I thought the judge gave a very thorough opinion yesterday, a definitive opinion, and we'll just have to see -- to see the -- how quickly the relevant courts act in the state of Florida.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHAW: On other legal fronts, a Leon County court judge is considering motions to dismiss a case from Seminole County. A Democratic voter there has charged that Republican workers tampered with thousands of absentee ballot applications. A trial on that case is to begin tomorrow.

And the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta heard arguments today in cases brought by Bush supporters, arguing that hand recounts of ballots are unconstitutional.

Well, amid the legal battles waging a political fight to keep party members behind Al Gore. CNN's Chris Black takes a closer look at today's rallying cry on the Hill led by Joe Lieberman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Joe Lieberman came to Capitol Hill asking his fellow Democrats to have faith.

LIEBERMAN: And we therefore go to the final arbiter, the Florida Supreme Court, the system of justice, the rule of law, for a judgment in this case which we think will be the final judgment.

BLACK: His Democratic colleagues were receptive, standing firm, they say.

SEN. THOMAS DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: There is no erosion of that support.

GEPHARDT: The Democratic Party is strongly supporting everything that is being done.

BLACK: Even the conservative, blue dog Democrats in the House, feeling pressure from their Republican constituents, say they will hold on, at least for a few more days.

REP. MARION BERRY (D), ARKANSAS: I think we're committed -- the conservatives are committed to seeing the rule of law carried out.

BLACK: Lieberman, a leading centrist in the Senate, paid a special call on the centrist Democrats in the house. Yet the political odds are tipping towards the Republican side, and the Democrats here know it.

SEN. EVAN BAYH (D), INDIANA: If the fat lady is not ready to sing, she's clearing her throat.

BLACK: Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski sees Al Gore as the prize fighter, still swinging.

SEN. BARBARA MIKULSKI (D), MARYLAND: He has a right to go his 15 rounds and throw his last three punches.

BLACK: There was no talk of fight from the Republican side. Dick Cheney also met privately with GOP leaders in the House and Senate.

CHENEY: The main subject of conversation that I wanted to hold, again at the request of the governor today, is to talk to Republican members about the transition.

BLACK: And Senate leaders from both parties are preoccupied with trying to figure how to work with their opponents in a Senate split evenly between the two parties.

SEN. LARRY CRAIG (R), IDAHO: Gridlock is unacceptable.

DASCHLE: It is so important for us to set a new tone.

BLACK (on camera): The lame duck session is supposed to be about the unfinished business of this year, but lawmakers are focused with next year, the next president and the next Congress.

Chris Black, CNN, Capitol Hill.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: And more now on the political calculations as the legal clashes continue. Let's bring back John King covering the Gore camp here in Washington and Candy Crowley covering the Bush camp in Texas.

Candy, to what extent -- the Bush people, we know they're watching all these goings-on at the Capitol. Do they feel that they can have some influence on how the Democrats are holding together or not?

CROWLEY: At this point, they really have kind of taken a step back here. They sense what we've been talking about for the past 24 hours, which is that this Leon County court ruling makes it really hard for Al Gore. So, they're trying to give him room on the stage, and with that, the Democrats. I talked to somebody about it today saying, look, you know, our motto here is hug a Democrat. You need them.

But at the moment, what we need to do is step back and honor -- you know, part of bipartisanship is to honor the fact that they're till standing behind Al Gore and we don't want to put them in awkward position. So, they're kind of stepped back from it but realize that the minute the legal go-ahead comes they want to beginning reach out.

WOODRUFF: John, just how many different degrees of support are there among Democrats for Al Gore?

KING: Well, if you -- if people could vote by secret ballot right now, you'd get quite a different variation. Several, we're told, wanted to come out as early as today and say look, it's time to get out. But they were held back by the request of their leaders, Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle, and top leadership aides working very furiously to keep everybody quiet.

If you can't support the vice president, their message is just be quiet. And what they're telling them all is look, this will be over in 72 more hours. Either Al Gore will win at the Florida Supreme Court and we will have a whole new ball game as we've had several times during this drama or the vice president will lose at the Florida State Supreme court and then we will be prepared to tell him that he has to get out and bow out gracefully.

So, there's a 72-hour clock here. If you can get people, and privately they're willing to say this, you know, he should have gotten out a week ago. He should get out tomorrow. He's going to look bad for 2004. But the message from the leadership is hang in there a few more days and all but a very few are doing that.

WOODRUFF: Candy, your line about hug a Democrat, is that universally believed by the Bush folks?

CROWLEY: It is. You know, because first of all, it is the nature of Governor Bush. You have to do that when you run a state government. You have to reach out across party lines. Obviously, he's been in office for more than six years here. And it's also sort of within his personality, is to kind of try and reach agreement. So yes. You know, by nature he's that way, but really by politics he has to be that way.

One of the things I'm told that went on in this Republican meeting with Dick Cheney today was that the Republican leader said, yes, you know, we recognize this, and we, in fact, believe we can get legislation done. Look, they know that in two years, the Democrats, if George Bush had assumed the presidency, the Republicans in Congress know within two years, the Democrats will be back fighting for both those Houses.

It is in their interests, the Republican interest, to get something done and to reach across party line. So you've you got sort of the personality of George Bush and the way he's run things here in Texas combining with what really is the political necessity to get something done.

WOODRUFF: John, you're talking to a lot of Democrats. How prepared are they to work with Governor Bush, assuming he's becomes president?

KING: Well, I think it will be a flashback, if you will, to the impeachment debate here. Liberals, those house Democrats in safe seats, senators who tend to be more liberal, I think they're prepared to fight, believing they can win back the Congress.

If Bush is president, that they can win back one if not both Houses in two years. Thirty-five or so blue dog Democrats in the House of Representatives, people like Senator John Breaux -- watch Senator Joseph Lieberman if he end up back in the Senate. Someone who likes to think of himself as a bipartisan player, what will he do?

Will he be preparing to run for president or will he be prepared to do bipartisan business. Governor Bush gets high marks from the Democrats who have spoken directly to the governor or to senior aides or vice presidential nominee Mr. Cheney. He's getting high marks from the Democrats in the middle who will matter most.

The big thing to watch if Bush wins will be how much pressure does the leadership, Dick Gephardt, Tom Daschle, put on people like Cal Dooley, John Breaux as they try to reach across the aisle and do business with the new president if it is Governor Bush.

WOODRUFF: Be fun to watch. John King, Candy Crowley. Thank you, both -- Bernie.

SHAW: Now back to the Florida Supreme Court. CNN's Kate Snow looks at the seven justices who sit on that court and their history.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye.

KATE SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Seven justices with the weight of the world on shoulders. As one former justice put it, they want to get this one right.

ARTHUR ENGLAND, FORMER FLORIDA SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: They're in the epicenter, if you will, things coming down and coming up. And they now seem to be the very center of the presidential contest.

SNOW: All seven have worked together since January of 1999. That's when Justices Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince joined the court.

THOMAS SARGENTICH, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW SCHOLAR: The general sense is that the Florida Supreme Court is a very fine, able body of jurists, very serious court.

SNOW: All of the justices were appointed by Democratic governors. Republican Governor Jeb Bush signed off on Peggy Quince's appointment, but she was originally named by Lawton Chiles. Six are registered Democrats, one is an independent. That background and what some see as left-leaning opinions have been a source of friction with Republican lawmakers.

GERALD KOGAN, FORMER FLORIDA SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: There are members of the legislature that say that the Supreme Court doesn't interpret the law, it makes the law. And consequently, it thwarts, as they say, the will of the people. So, you may not find us to be very popular with the legislative, or in this administration, with the executive branch.

SNOW: Gerald Kogan served on Florida's highest court for 12 years. He says it would be unusual for the court to overturn a finding of fact from a lower court judge, like Judge N. Sanders Sauls.

KOGAN: However, if the court feels that a judge has grossly, you know, abused his discretion, then the court will say, uh-uh. We're looking at the facts and his findings don't jive with the evidence that was at trial, and therefore they'll go back and reverse it.

SNOW: As for the other case sent back to the Florida Supreme Court, legal scholars say it's not all that odd. The U.S. Supreme Court has simply asked the justices for clarification.

SARGENTICH: I don't think this was a rebuke of the Florida Supreme Court. I think it was a genuine effort by the U.S. Supreme Court to say here's what we have trouble with. In fact, here are the issues we might reverse you on. Tell us if we should do so.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Court observers say the Florida court is likely to tell the U.S. Supreme Court exactly what that court wants to hear, that it made its decision based on Florida law and not on the Florida constitution. As to what happens with the Gore appeal, that is more difficult to predict. Said one former justice, no matter what they do, they're going to get a lot of grief -- Judy

WOODRUFF: All right, Kate Snow. We'll see.

When INSIDE POLITICS returns, Jeanne Meserve on conservative Republicans and their concerns about George W. Bush.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: Former President George Bush is said to be resting comfortably after having his left hip replaced today at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The surgery was performed two days after the 76-year-old Mr. Bush played in a celebrity tennis tournament. Presidential candidate George W. Bush says he said a little prayer for his father. Mayo Clinic officials say the senior Bush is expected to be in the hospital for five days.

WOODRUFF: Despite the fact that the presidential election is still being contested, some Republicans are applying pressure on George W. Bush, mincing no words about certain cabinet positions in a possible Bush administration.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve has that story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Dick Cheney went a'courting on Capitol Hill, among those receiving his first attentions: some of the Senate's most conservative members. George W. Bush cultivated conservatives during his candidacy, even consulting with Ralph Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition. And conservatives applauded his choice of Cheney, one of their own, as his running mate.

But there has been a lurking suspicion among some conservatives that Bush is not 100 percent with them on issues like abortion and education, and some conservatives confess they are queasy that centrist Andy Card has been tapped by Bush to be White House chief of staff.

RICH LOWRY, EDITOR, "NATIONAL REVIEW": So if he is a sign of the other appointments we are going to get from the Bush administration, it makes conservatives a little nervous.

MESERVE: The administration of Bush's father was a huge disappointment to conservatives, and two other players from that place and time are likely George W. appointees: General Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. Because they would deal with international policy, not red meat social issues, conservatives say they can live with them.

For the most part, Republican internecine warfare has been delayed along with the election result, although some conservative publications were incensed when Pennsylvania's pro-abortion rights governor Tom Ridge was mentioned as a possible secretary of defense. They fully expect other battles.

DAVID BROOKS, SENIOR EDITOR, "WEEKLY STANDARD": The conservatives fully expect that in six months they are going to be hitting George W. Bush from the right with all they've got.

MESERVE: Conservatives will insist their ideological soulmates be picked as health and human services secretary, surgeon general, education secretary, and most importantly, attorney general. Conservatives are concerned that a new horse may have taken the lead in the race for that job: Montana Governor Marc Racicot.

MARSHALL WHITMAN, HUDSON INSTITUTE: He's done so well in the Florida auditions that he may overtake the right's favorite, who is Governor Keating.

MESERVE (on camera): A few conservatives say they will give Bush considerable latitude. After all, said one, no matter how many Andy Cards he puts in his administration, it's preferable to Al Gore's.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Austin, Texas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHAW: And still ahead, a high-profile Democrat heads for the Hill, looking at the New York senator-elect's first day.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina celebrates his 98th birthday today, and we thought we'd help you put that in perspective by reminding you of a few things. Dixie Cups were invented in 1900. Thurmond, who would become a Dixiecrat, was born two years later, in Edgefield, South Carolina. In the next year, in 1903, the Wright Brothers made their famous first flight at Kitty Hawk. In 1904, when Strom Thurmond was 2 years old, the ice cream cone was invented. And in 1905, Albert Einstein developed the theory of relativity.

Strom Thurmond was 18 years old when Band-Aids were invented in 1920, and the first digital computer was created in 1945, three years before Thurmond's presidential run as a states rights Democrat.

At the time Post-it notes were invented in 1974, Thurmond had already served nearly two decades in the Senate and made his switch to the Republican Party.

We want Senator Thurmond to know, Bernie, we're not trying to make him feel old. We wish him just as happy a birthday as all of his colleagues do.

SHAW: Indeed our salute to the man from the palmetto state.

Well, with so much attention focused on the presidential stand- off, the arrival of the Senate freshmen might have gone unnoticed today: might have, were it not for the notoriety of the first lady turned senator-elect, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Eileen O'Connor reports on Mrs. Clinton's first day among her new colleagues on the Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O'CONNOR (voice-over): She came with her own Secret Service detail: first day for the first, first lady to be elected senator.

H. CLINTON: How are you this morning? Nice to see you.

O'CONNOR: And try as she might to hide amongst her fellow freshmen, she simply couldn't.

H. CLINTON: For me, it's been the great privilege to be here, especially with the other new senators with whom I'll serve.

O'CONNOR: Joining 12 other women now in an elite men's club. The star power of a first lady, the women say, will help their causes.

SEN.-ELECT DEBBIE STABENOW (D), MICHIGAN: Everybody talked about doctors being in charge of medical decisions, everybody talked about schools and safety and equality for our children. Now the question is, how do we, in fact, follow through on that for the good of the country?

O'CONNOR: For the guys on her team, the Democrats that is, Hillary represents a star politician who has played in the big leagues.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY WHIP: If I played baseball -- and I used to -- and somebody gave me someone that could hit home runs, could hit singles, could steal bases, and was a great defensive player, I'd say bring 'em on. That's how I feel about Hillary.

O'CONNOR: As for the guys on the other team, Senate Republicans, she's just like all the other rookies.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MAJORITY LEADER: She, I'm sure, is going to be a very diligent senator, will work hard, get committee assignments where she has a real interest, and will be a very important part of this body, just like every other senator is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

H. CLINTON: I really think Bill has everything under control.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Wait, wait, wait, wait!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'CONNOR: Her husband has joked about how he will now have to treat his wife, soon to be the only one drawing a regular salary -- as it should be for a woman who always said baking cookies wasn't her thing.

Eileen O'Connor, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHAW: Well...

WOODRUFF: That's a funny scene!

SHAW: Yes. That scene, by the way, is from a gag reel that was shown at a former White House radio and TV correspondents dinner. It is hilarious.

WOODRUFF: You mean it didn't -- that didn't really happen?

SHAW: That didn't really happen.

That's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS, but of course, you can go online all the time at CNN's Allpolitics.com.

WOODRUFF: And for the latest on the election, watch CNN at 8:00 Eastern for a special edition of "THE WORLD TODAY" with Wolf Blitzer. And join Jeff Greenfield at 10:00 Eastern for an hour-long special report on the day's developments.

I'm Judy Woodruff.

SHAW: I'm Bernard Shaw. "MONEYLINE NEWS HOUR" is next.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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